Despite publicity given to the case of the couple who received jail terms, most holidaymakers are unaware of the risks of false claims. | Archive

It was one of the most sensitive issues of last summer, British holidaymakers and false sickness claim hunters costing Majorcan and Spanish hoteliers tens of million in euros in false compensation payouts.

After much negotiation between the UK and Spanish governments and the corresponding tourism authorities, it was agreed that tough action would be taken from this year and that the law would be reformed in the UK to prevent this practice from continuing. However, the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) yesterday wrote to the British government stressing the need for swift action.

This month is the busiest summer holiday booking period of the year and Abta fears that, despite the British government’s promise, it may take its eye off the ball and that any new measures may be introduced too late to have any effect this summer. Abta says that as many as 9.5 million British adults have been approached about making a compensation claim for being sick while on holiday.

New figures from a YouGov survey of British adults reveal almost one in five people (19%) have been contacted about making a compensation claim for holiday sickness. The most common way people said they were approached was over the phone (14%), followed by text (7%) and email (7%). Some people also reported being contacted on social media (3%) and some were approached in person (2%), including in airports or while on holiday.

The new figures are released as part of Abta’s ‘Stop Sickness Scams’ campaign which highlights that false claims are costing the travel industry tens of millions of pounds. Abta is calling for the urgent closure of a loophole in the law, which enables claims management companies and legal firms to make more money in fees from sickness claims abroad than they’re able to from personal injuries in the UK.

Evidence from the travel industry and customers highlights that some claims management companies are contacting people out of the blue, encouraging them to make a false claim and often misleadingly saying there is a pot of money waiting to be claimed - but aren’t telling them the risks involved.

Making a false compensation claim for holiday sickness is an act of fraud and if prosecuted could result in a large fine, criminal record or jail term of up to three years. However, many people are unaware of the seriousness of the penalty.

The new research finds that 70% of people don’t know that making a false claim for holiday sickness could result in a prison sentence in the UK or abroad. Just 38% think people could receive a fine in the UK or abroad.

In October 2017 a couple from Merseyside received a prison sentence after being found guilty of making a fraudulent sickness claim. Deborah Briton was sentenced to nine months and her partner Paul Roberts was jailed for 15 months.

Since 2013, there has been a 500% rise in the number of compensation claims received by travel companies for holiday sickness, yet the number of sickness reports to hotels in resorts has remained the same. The problem is only associated with UK holidaymakers - travel firms in other countries have not experienced an increase.

The findings were published yesterday, six months after the government announced its plans to clampdown on the rise in false sickness claims. Abta wants the government to make sure the new measures are in place in time for the main 2018 holiday period. There are only two opportunities a year to make the planned changes – April and October – if the measures aren’t in place by April it will be too late for the summer season.

Abta wants the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, which will come before parliament early this year, to include a ban on cold calling for personal injury claims by claims management companies.

Mark Tanzer, Abta's chief executive says: "Unscrupulous claims management companies are encouraging people to make a false sickness claim which could land them with a large fine or even a prison sentence. False claims don’t just make UK holidaymakers vulnerable to serious penalties, they’re also costing travel companies and hotel owners tens millions of pounds and tarnishing the reputation of the British abroad. Closing the loophole in the law in time for the 2018 holiday season will make a big difference in tackling fraudulent sickness claims."